Hard to Fall

By: Marquita Valentine

Chapter 1


For me, family comes first, and before you get that oh, isn’t he just the sweetest, allow me to disabuse you of the notion. It’s our family business that comes first and it’s American as the Declaration of Independence.

Walkers are career politicians.

Have been since the Revolutionary War.

Which is why I’m here, at my family’s home, listening to the senator wax poetic about the great expectations his constituents have entrusted in him and how he’s going to continue to meet every single one with lower taxes and small-business incentives, instead of spending my weekend off at the lake.

And I fucking hate it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my family—my brothers—the little shits, who aren’t so little anymore—and my parents. What I don’t love is being held to a promise I made when I was barely eighteen, before I had a chance to really explore what life had to offer. Before the blinders were removed and I stopped believing that politicians could change the world.

As a waiter passes, I grab a glass of champagne and head for the table laden with food. One thing I can always count on is the amazing spread. This time the theme is seafood, and due to my family home’s close proximity to the coast, it makes sense. If there’s one complaint I have about living so far inland, it’s the lack of right-off-the-fishing-boats seafood.

“Hayden, darling. Come give your momma a kiss and say hello to Lyla Jane Barringer.” Georgiana Walker is the epitome of a southern belle. Her voice is graceful, she floats rather than walks, and her sense of style is impeccable. Nearing sixty, she doesn’t look a day over forty with her light brown hair and sea-green eyes. The laugh lines on her face are few and far between. Whether this is due to genetics or Botox, I’ll never know because I’ll never ask. She’ll never tell, either.

We don’t call her the keeper of all secrets for nothing.

Either way, I love my mother. She’s the rock of our family and frankly, I know that without her influence, my father would have never allowed me to leave Burgaw again, once I graduated from Duke University.

Like the dutiful son I am, I pivot and do exactly as my mother asks. “Momma. Ms. Barringer.”

“Call me Lyla.” Her gaze is assessing as she licks her bottom lip.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Her cheeks flush pink. Charmingly so, but I don’t believe for a second that it’s real. “We went to Easton Prep together. I was a year behind you, though. I doubt you remember me.”

I nod; bits and pieces of my high school years flicker through my brain. “You were yearbook editor, right?” At her happy nod, I continue. “Wow. I don’t know how you did it, but thanks for not making me look like a tool in my pictures.”

“That wasn’t me. That was all you, Hayden.”

My mother pats me on the shoulder. “Looks like the two of you have so much to catch up on that I’ll leave y’all to it.”

“Would you like to get something to eat?” I ask.

“I would love to!” Right after my mother is out of earshot, she lowers her voice and purrs, “Actually, I’d love to have some private time with you. I heard you provide all of your dates with amazing…views.”

Not what I was expecting from Lyla, but I’ll take the distraction just the same. “Only amazing?”

“Spectacular better?”

“Marginally.” I cock an eyebrow at her, taking note of her perky tits about to pop out of the top of her strapless sundress. “You’re ready right now, aren’t you?”

“The greenhouse is empty.”

Bad idea. Really bad idea. I’ve been so good lately. So damn good that I haven’t slept with anyone in three months.

She leans in to whisper, “I forgot to wear panties today, but considering how wet I am right now…I think that’s a good thing, don’t you?”

Lyla smiles seductively, one of her hands brushing right over the growing bulge in my pants. “How delightful. The rumors don’t begin to do you justice.”

“I’m not fully there, yet.”

Her eyes widen and her cheeks flush, this time with lust. “The flowers, if you please.”